Future Private Capital Leaders: Ha Nguyen

June 19, 2018 | By: Darrell Pinto

Encouraging and supporting the development of industry leadership is a central part of the sustainability of Canadian private capital. Showcasing talent and telling their stories helps to build and encourage the next generation.

The CVCA is embarking on a new content series featuring the junior talent in the ecosystem. As part of this new series, we caught up with Ha Nguyen, Associate, McRock Capital.

Ha Nguyen, Associate, McRock Capital

You have lived and worked in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Toronto and now Calgary, each time moving to a city where you knew no one. What’s your secret to succeeding in new and unfamiliar places?

Moving to a new place without my family or my loved ones are always tough, but for me, these are also beautiful experience, and they are important parts of becoming who I am and who I want to be. Every time when I wanted to take a big leap in an aspect of my life, the first step was spending some time to set the right mentality. There are always certain risks waiting when you find yourself in an unfamiliar place; but what matters is how you perceive them. Things often don’t turn out as we wish, but if we stay alert, keep an open mind and reflect on our struggles, I believe we will be able to thrive. Connecting with people and observing people is also very important to understand the system, so you can find a way to fit in. At the same time, we need to appreciate the others’ perspectives and advice, but also need to maintain the ability to process information independently and decide what work for ourselves.

Your international journey in private capital is quite amazing. In hindsight, what were the pivotal events that led you to your current role at McRock?

The first life-changing experience I had was when I decided to move from Hanoi to HCM City to take the job at IDG Ventures. I had been living in Hanoi for 25 years, so my whole life was there. And I got huge pushback from my parents for that decision at the time. But that move opened the door for me to the VC world and encouraged me to keep dreaming bigger.

My big dream became a reality when I got the permanent resident status and immigrated to Canada. I arrived in Toronto in the summer of 2016, starting a new life from scratch. After the initial excitement wore off, I had to face my biggest fear of not being able to find a job, let alone the job I enjoy. I wanted to get back to VC but had no friends and connections. After six months of struggles, my chance finally came with a program of ACCES Employment, a government organization for skilled newcomers. ACCES put us in front of big employers in Canada such as BDC, CIBC, TD and so on. At a networking event, I met with Joe Topley – a Director at the London office of Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Joe appreciated my international experience, and he made efforts to put me in touch with his connections in Toronto. Joe was the person who introduced me to Whitney (Rockley) and the team at McRock, and I was humbled to be welcomed to the team. The whole process was an incredible journey with lots of support from amazing people. And I am forever grateful!

Before leaving Vietnam, you considered both Australia and New Zealand but chose Canada to continue you career. Why?

I spent lots of time researching different countries and their immigration programs, and believed Canada was the best option for me given my background and career path.

There are so many reasons that make Canada a great place for skilled immigrants. We have a stable economy, a diverse culture, and a skill shortage which creates opportunities for talents from all over the world. The immigration program of Canada is very open and supportive, and the government has also launched a number of immigrant-serving organizations in every province to help newcomers settle in Canada.

I had also noticed that Canada was the homeland of many awesome startups like Shopify or Hootsuite, as well as major tech companies like Blackberry. In addition to that, we have world-class universities which produce a number of high-quality graduates and research every year. The market was considered quite small compared to Europe and the US. But with tremendous efforts from government and private sectors, I had a firm belief that the country was doing very well on building a thriving startup ecosystem. And so far, I think I have made the right decision.

Were there any barriers that you have overcome as a successful professional working woman?

Apparently, there is still a long way to go for me to be considered a successful woman. But reflecting on my career path, there were undoubtedly some barriers that I have been encountering. One of the biggest challenges is keeping to my principles and focusing on my core values. Private capital is a very competitive space, and competition is necessary in some context and to some extent. We often see so many young, successful and ambitious people around, and it is great to be inspired by them. But at the same time, we may end up being under the pressure to look like them and sound like them. Comparing ourselves to other people only distracts us from seeing our true potentials. We are all unique individuals and professionals, and I believe the only person we should compete with is ourselves. There is so much noise in the industry, but I am trying my best to keep my head down, work hard and focusing on my passion.

What advice would you give to a young person trying to enter the Canadian private capital industry?

As our industry is embracing diversity and inclusion, I think we are in the right position to welcome talents from different backgrounds, and thus there are many ways young professionals can enter this industry. To get in, the first thing to do is researching the skills and knowledge required to succeed and develop yourself in that direction. Company culture is a crucial factor to consider for young professionals, even more so if you are someone who just breaks into the industry. The people you work with in the first 3-5 years will make an impact on who you are as a professional, so we should carefully do due diligence on the firm and the people and do a pulse check on value alignment.

Networking is key to get yourself known, but we can always try and follow the tactics that work best for us. For example, I am not doing well at mingling, so my best chance is to find the events that allow me to have one-on-one conversations with people, even only for a few minutes.

Who are 2 role models who have inspired you?

The first person I’d like to talk about is a historical figure—General George Marshall. I read his story in the book “The Road to Character” by David Brooks and was greatly inspired. Compared to his peers in the military world at that time, Marshall was not the brightest star, but he managed to live a life of continuous self-mastery, devoting himself for his organization and people; and for me, that was an extraordinary life. My dad used to be in the army, and he developed a similar mindset. He and Marshall had taught me that to become a better version of myself, there are some certain self-development practices that we can apply in daily life: stay humble. Don’t complain about small discomforts. Embrace struggles. And never give up.

Career-wise, I think it is super important for young female professionals to find a role model in this industry to look up to. And for me, that person is Whitney Rockley, Managing Partner of McRock. One year working with Whitney and the team proved to me that great leaders lead by example, and that shows in her actions. Each of our team members at McRock truly understands that leading people is not about command but about inspiration and sponsorship. And that is the lesson I will take with me through the rest of my career.

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